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Mental miscues led to Cowboys’ undoing at SLU

Last Modified: Sunday, September 23, 2012 9:20 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

If I told you in August that McNeese State was going to be 3-1 after playing three road games in its first four, you would have taken it.

And yet... you probably wouldn’t take this 3-1, which puts the Cowboys behind the 8-ball in the Southland Conference race. If Saturday’s game is what McNeese State is going to pass off as football without Malcolm Bronson on the field, you don’t want to bother showing up the rest of this season.

The good news is it’s unlikely the Cowboys are going to lay another egg of this magnitude. A performance that shaky is difficult to duplicate for a talented team. But, knowledge that this could be this season’s low point doesn’t make Saturday’s 25-24 loss to Southeastern Louisiana any less painful.

First, because almost all the wounds incurred against the Lions were of the self-inflicted variety. Secondly, because the Cowboys promising season could potentially unravel under an avalanche of key injuries.

Who McNeese lost to on Saturday is not as troubling as how it lost. There were too many mistakes that championship-caliber teams simply don’t make. Multiple mental miscues, particularly in the fourth quarter, directly led to SLU winning.

A false start on a 31-yard field goal attempt that would have given McNeese a 27-17 lead looms as one of the biggest, though it really should not have been. Hitting a 36-yarder shouldn’t be a chore for a kicker that once nailed a game-winning 52-yarder at the gun on the very same field. Yet the re-do undid Josh Lewis, who pulled it left and breathed life back into the Lions.

Even the best kickers in the world are capable of faltering in similar situations. Mr. Clutch himself, Adam Viantieri, found himself in the exact same scenario as Lewis on Sunday. A penalty pushed the Colts kicker back 5 yards early in the fourth quarter. Seconds later — you guessed it — he hooked a 36-yarder wide left.

That’s why I think Matt Viator will stick with Lewis — for now, anyway — even though he has only made 4 of his 8 attempts this season. Kickers are gonna do kicker stuff no matter who they are. You just have to hope they snap out of it, though certainly the ice is getting thinner where Lewis is skating at this rate.

At any rate, the missed field goal was but one of many factors that killed the Cowboys.

SLU tight end Taylor Jenkins was so open on the fourth-down touchdown catch that made it 24-23, he could have made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before anyone touched him. The coup de gras was the too many men on the field penalty that allowed the Lions to move closer to the goal line and go for 2 and the win with 2:39 remaining.

Each of these things — the false start, the blown coverage, too many men on the field — are avoidable. I think this team is disciplined enough that they won’t crop up again, or at least not in a close enough sequence to cost McNeese a game it should win.

More troubling is how easily the Lions pushed around the Cowboy defense.

SLU was a ridiculous 11 of 22 (50 percent) on third- and fourth-down conversions. Three times the Lions had drives of at least 15 plays. One of those drives went 86 yards and lasted 7:03. Another went 80 yards in 6:25. Drives like that are a show of toughness, and in this case the team with less talent won because it had more grit.

Granted, it’s unlikely McNeese’s defense would have been so susceptible with their heart and soul, Bronson and linebacker Joe Narcisse, on the field. Narcisse will probably be back next week, but Bronson is done for the year. Fellow defensive backs Ford Smesny, Guy Morgan and Wallace Scott were also gone by the end of the game. It’s too early to say when they will return.

Every team is entitled to one stinker over the course of a year, especially in a game where so many key players were missing. Better to have it happen early when the mistakes are correctable than in the loss that ends your season. The short-handed Cowboys now need their reserves — and remaining starters — to go back to work and make sure that number doesn’t rise.

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